Monday, June 23rd, 2020
On June 23rd I drove to Killarney Provincial Park to hike the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. The trail is a 78-100km backpacking trail through the La Cloche Mountains in Ontario. I planned to hike the trail in 5 nights, so I decided to camp at the park before setting out early on June 24th.
I had a relaxing evening sitting by a campfire, eating mediocre freeze dried food, chasing raccoons out of my backpack and preparing for the trail. The sunset alone was worth camping the night before the trail.
On June 24th I woke up at 5:30am. With rain in the forecast later in the day, I wanted to get my tent packed up and get on the trail as soon as I could. I drove to the trailhead, grabbed my pack and took a deep breath as I locked my car and realized I was committing to being alone in the woods for 6 days. I reminded myself that I was as prepared as I could be, and had all the right gear. At 7:30am, I passed the trail sign, crossed the first bridge and onto the trail I went.
The first few miles on the trail went well. It was a bit of a green tunnel with not much to look at, but the terrain was fairly easy. My first small obstacle was crossing a partially washed out bridge near Lumsden Lake.
I approached this bridge, took one look at it and said to myself “ugh.” After staring at the submerged bridge, I decided to just rip the bandaid off and plow through as fast as I could. This is when my feet got soaked, and they stayed soaked for the rest of the trip. I continued along the trail, and the weather started to change. It was as humid as the Amazon Rainforest, and the mosquitoes and black flies were loving it (and me.)
At around 10am it started to rain. I sat on a rock, put my pack cover and rain jacket on. After a snack, I checked my progress and felt like I was going at a good pace. I hoisted my heavy backpack onto my back and went on my way. Within minutes I was dying of heat, and realized it was just way too hot and humid to wear even the thinnest rain jacket. I took off my jacket and immediately was the target of 100’s of mosquitoes. “Ugh, guess I’m wearing the head net now”, I said to myself. I tied my rain jacket to my waist for whenever I would stop for a break. Stopping with short sleeves was just asking to be eaten alive. I started to have flashbacks from my trip to Algonquin park when I saw blood on my trekking poles from all the bug bites.
I then reached what would be one of the hardest parts of the day, “The Pig Portage.” This is the steepest portage in the park, and is a path made up of small, uneven rocks. I began the climb, telling myself that after this I could have lunch and relax a bit. The steepness wasn’t the worst part. The bugs and humidity made it impossible to stop and take a breather.
I climbed the seemingly endless hill and then started to descend sharply. “Seriously?!” I thought to myself. I climbed down the rocky path and spotted an abandoned cabin at the end. I walked towards the eerie cabin and saw a lake that looked like a good spot to have lunch at.
Thankfully, it was just spitting so I threw my backpack onto the ground and plopped myself down directly in the dirt. I put my rain jacket on to keep the bugs out and grabbed my food bag from my pack. Lunch was pepperettes wrapped in a tortilla, trail mix and apple sauce. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I knew I was burning tons of calories and had to eat.
After relaxing for a few minutes, I sent a quick text on my Garmin that I was over halfway to camp, and I should be there within a few hours. I explored the area around the cabin, took a few photos and then realized I was off the trail…
After searching around for the trail, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I decided to retrace my steps and started climbing back up the rocky path. Halfway up I spotted a small cairn on the right and turned down that path. Annoyed, but relived I continued on and ran into my first human of the day. The man asked where I was going, and I said I was doing the whole trail. He looked very surprised and then told me he was doing an out and back to H17. I felt kind of annoyed at this point as I had just gotten semi lost, and was annoyed at the bugs. I stopped at the view and thought for a second… “wait a minute… my campsite is H17.” I felt confused and worried that this man was going to arrive at my campsite first and I’d have to find another place, or kick him out. I hoped he just got the campsites mixed up. Normally, I wouldn’t mind sharing a campsite, but I wasn’t in a social mood and I was getting pretty tired.
I looked ahead and saw a beaver dam, which a lot of people cross to save time. I contemplated crossing here, but the water was a bit high and I saw lots of “Danger, keep out signs.” I decided since I was alone, I probably shouldn’t risk it and continued on the trail. I heard rustling in the bushes, and saw that the man was crossing the dam. Now I knew he would for sure beat my to the campsite, since I had to detour 2-3km around the dam to the bridge. At this point, I was kind of annoyed because the trail was very overgrown and the bugs were awful. I slipped on some wet rock, and realized I was getting kind of tired. After a small break, I felt energized and motivated to continue on. I only had about 4 miles left to my campsite, so I knew I could do it. After hiking for a few minutes, I started to regret not crossing the beaver dam. This part of the trail was swampy, overgrown and very boring. I focused on the task at hand and kept powering through. I knew once I crossed the bridge I would be super close to the campsite so I was motivated. I carefully walked along the trail, as it was getting super slippery from the consistent rain. I felt my foot get stuck under a root, and I went flying to the ground. I rolled my right ankle and tried to save myself from falling. I couldn’t catch my balance and I ended up twisting and contorting my left leg badly. I heard a snapping sound and I fell to the ground in pain. I laid there for a minute in the dirt and started to cry. I knew this wasn’t an ordinary fall, and I felt like I had seriously hurt something. I knew I couldn’t just lie in the middle of the trail all day so I got up and took a few steps. I hobbled along for a bit, and was seriously worried. I could walk, but barely. I thought after “walking it off” for a bit, I’d be ok. I thought about baseball players getting hurt on the field, the trainer coming out and then the player would tough it out a bit to continue the game. I hobbled along the trail slowly, and I started to doubt whether I’d be able to continue. I saw the fabled bridge across the river, and then ran into a couple who had hiked the whole trail. As soon as I saw them, I started bawling. “I hurt myself…” was all I could mutter out. They offered me snacks, water, a map, and I didn’t need any of it. I just wanted to cry. They convinced me I should turn around, as the trail only got harder. They told me there was no way out and they were seriously exhausted from the hike.
I sat down on the rocks and gathered myself. I decided to turn around, although I was only 3 miles to my intended campsite. I hobbled down the trail, and my pace got slower and slower. At this point, I was putting so much weight on my trekking poles to save my leg. I kept checking my phone for phone service, and couldn’t get any. I knew I had 10 miles to the car, and it being almost 2pm, I knew I’d either be hiking in the dark, or sleeping in the woods somewhere. I didn’t know what to do. Do I press the SOS button and be rescued? I didn’t want to, as I could still technically walk, and I knew it would probably be a helicopter rescue. I would feel so guilty not walking out on my own legs but I was questioning whether or not I could make it. I got one bar of cell reception so I decided to try calling the park, to see if there was a closer campsite I could stay at and then hike out in the morning. Of course, there was an automated recording that said the park was closed. “Alright, guess I’m hiking out tonight”, I told myself. I took advantage of the cell reception and called my mom to tell her what happened. I cried like a baby and she kept telling me to press the SOS button. I told her I would keep her updated on my Garmin, but I would probably hike out tonight, and make it to the car around 9pm.
I slowly made my way down the trail, reaching the pig again and carefully placing my foot on each rock. Going down this was treacherous as everything was soaked and both my legs were injured. At the bottom, I realized I had not had a sip of water since “the incident”. I knew I needed to find a water source and filter water ASAP. Finally I reached a nice looking stream, and hobbled down the slippery rock to filter water. I grabbed my water and it was pretty yellow. I looked upstream to see a stagnant beaver pond and beaver dam. What I thought was fresh stream water, was actually pretty gross. I didn’t have much choice, so I gulped the water down and force fed myself some trail mix. I sat down and remembered what was ahead of me: a few rocky stream crossings, and a treacherous beaver dam crossing. It was now 5:30pm and I knew I’d be hiking in the dark, so I grabbed my headlamp.
I was seriously lacking motivation so I put on a Beach House album. The music was calming, but the album seemed to be over so fast and I had barely covered any ground. I started to feel very weak. I reached an open rock face where the trail seemed to end abruptly. I got lost for a bit, and had to bushwack back to the trail. I knew hiking at night while injured may not be the best idea. My right leg started to cramp up, and I came upon the treacherous beaver dam crossing. I had to scale tipsy logs, and questionable rocks but made it to the other side. I stopped and gulped the rest of my water, as my entire body was starting to cramp up. I knew this was a very bad sign, so I filtered more beaver dam water. After the dam, the trail was very flat and went in between two small lakes. One was called Cave lake, and there were a few established campsites. I saw people at the sites, and they looked kind of far away. I was kind of tempted to ask them if I could stay at their site, but I really didn’t feel like taking the trail all the way there as I was exhausted. I sat down in a clearing, and realized this would be the perfect place to camp. Although you are not allowed to camp in a non-designated spot, I knew I might have to. I decided to sit down for dinner, and shoved a plain tortilla in my mouth, along with whatever I could find in my food bag. Cheetos, fruit sauce, a pepperette. I did not feel satisfied, but I decided to continue on anyways. After just a few steps I realized I could absolutely not make it back to the car tonight. I found another clearing, and decided I would just camp overnight, and head to the car at first light.
I threw my bag on the ground, and quickly set up my tent as it started to rain harder. I was camped out near Acid Lake which wasn’t too far into the trail, so I knew it would be an easy hike out in the morning. I looked back at my backpack, and realized I had left it open and rain was getting everything wet. I just wanted to go in the tent and sleep, but I still had to hang my food and scented items. I walked a bit and found a decent tree, but after trying to get my food up, I was just too exhausted and in pain. I spotted an abandoned canoe in the woods, and hid my food underneath the canoe. I wondered if bears can lift canoes but wasn’t too worried, as it was far away from my tent. I got back to my tent, threw my bag inside and tried to put all my wet clothes in the corner. Everything was sopping wet, but thankfully my sleep clothes were fine. I tired to get comfortable in my sleeping bag, but my muscles were seriously cramping up. I started to worry about what would happen if I got a major Charlie horse, and couldn’t stand up to get rid of it, since my leg was so hurt. I tossed and turned for a bit, then decided to go back to my food bag in the rain. I shoved some more food in my mouth, and drank some Mio sport straight out of the container. It was disgusting but I needed electrolytes to help the cramping. I got back in my cozy sleeping bag, put on a movie and fell asleep pretty fast.
At 3:30am I woke up to a thunderstorm with torrential rain. After a few minutes I realized my tent was caving in on itself, and the wind was so strong I had to hold the sides up with my hands. The wind was not letting up, and I was worried my tent would fully collapse so I went outside in my bare feet. Getting up was super hard, and I had to put all my weight on my hiking poles to get up. It was pitch black and all I could see was that my tent stakes had mostly come out of the ground. The rain was so heavy, I was shivering, and I could barely walk so I decided just to go back in the tent and wait out the rain. Finally the wind slowed down a bit and I fell back asleep. I woke up around 5am and the sun was coming up, but the woods were still super foggy. I didn’t want to get up, but the rain was a lot lighter, so I knew I had to take this opportunity to pack up. Packing up was very difficult, as my leg and foot got super stiff overnight and it was even harder to walk. My feet were so swollen I could barely get my hiking shoes back on.
I finally hit the trail and slowly took some steps. Walking was a lot harder today, and a lot more painful. I kept telling myself I only had 3 or so miles to the car, and I would be changed into cozy sweatpants by 9am. The weather was cold this morning, about 10 degrees celsius, and everything I owned was damp. I kept doubting whether or not I’d be able to make it to the car, but I kept thinking about all the things I could drink when I was back in civilization: fountain drink root beer, clean water, coffee. This put a pep in my step, and I hobbled along slightly faster. I took a few breaks for water, and to rest. I told myself, resting isn’t really helping, not making me feel any better, and the faster I hike, the sooner this will be over. The trail was rockier than I remembered, and I had to cross a few more streams. Normally what would be an easy rock hop seemed like a death defying experience. I just kept telling myself I was almost there. Soon enough I passed campsites H3 and H2. I knew I was super close to the washed out bridge! I scaled the slippery rock and reached the bridge, which was now completely washed out. I let out a big sigh, and plowed through the calf deep water, which still smelled disgusting. I didn’t care at this point, because I knew I’d be back to the car in no time. I scaled the rocks carefully, and continued onto the trail. This portion had lots of wooden planks to walk on, which was nice but slowed me down. Eventually I saw the sign warning day hikers, and reached the bridge by George Lake. When I saw the bridge, I almost cried. I couldn’t believe I had made it out and slowly walked up the final hill to the trail sign. I walked along the road and past the campsites. Campers were just waking up, and I was hobbling along the flat path, looking like I had just fought in a war. I got back to my car, ripped my shoes off, collected my dry clothes and used my pole as a cane to get me to the luxurious pit toilet. After changing, I got back to my car and just cried. I felt like I failed the trail, even though getting hurt was out of my control. I had not eaten anything that morning, so I finished off my dinner Cheetos at 8:30am.
It was still pouring rain, and I had to drive back to Toronto. I was happy to be back at the car, but upset I had hurt myself. I started the 4 hour drive home, and stopped at a rest stop. At this point, I could not make it to the building, as I was in so much pain. I knew I had to go to the hospital. Finally after a long journey home, I went to the hospital where I found out my left fibula was broken. I had the bone reset, got a cast and was told I’d be in it for 6-8 weeks. Although my summer of hiking was ruined, at least I have a good story to tell.
I am finally nearing 6 weeks in the cast, and after a lot of old Jeopardy episodes, I am looking forward to hopefully walking soon.
Moral of the story: Do not go backpacking alone, unless you are prepared to deal with an emergency alone!